Twins Monday: Rookie Aaron Hicks finding his swing

Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks has looked like a different player since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, and he had perhaps the best offensive game of his young career in Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hicks finished Monday’s game with a four-hit night — the first of his career — which included two doubles and a triple. In seven games since coming back from the DL on July 2, Hicks is now batting 10-for-25 (.400) with a home run, three doubles, two RBI and eight runs scored.

“He’s a little more confident,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Hicks. “I think he’s comfortable right now. Hopefully it’ll continue.”

Hicks’ first hit Monday was a ground-rule double down the left-field line to lead off the third inning. As Hicks rounded first, a fan in the left-field corner interfered with the ball, allowing Hicks to reach second for his first of two doubles. Hicks later came around to score the Twins’ first run later in the inning on a Brian Dozier double to left.

Hicks singled with one out in the fourth for hit No. 2 of the evening, but he was later picked off at first base for the second out of the inning. Two innings later, Hicks redeemed himself for the pickoff by connecting for his third triple of the year on a ball that reached the gap in right-center field.

“He got some pitches and didn’t miss them,” Gardenhire said. “Earlier (in the year) he was missing those pitches and was rolling over them or popping them up.”

Needing a home run for the cycle in his final at-bat of the night in the ninth inning, Hicks instead settled for his second double of the game and his fourth hit of the evening when he doubled to right field and later scored on a Pedro Florimon single.

Hicks might still have been playing for Triple-A Rochester if not for an injury to another outfielder. Left fielder Josh Willingham went on the disabled list last week after having arthroscopic knee surgery. That meant the Twins needed another outfielder, so they activated Hicks from the DL. They were hoping to see some more production from Hicks in Rochester before he was recalled, but Willingham’s injury forced their hand.

So far, that move has paid off over the last week.

Thielbar’s streak ends: Twins rookie left-hander Caleb Thielbar entered Monday’s game with quite the streak going. He had yet to allow a run in the first 17 appearances of his big league career, a span of 19 2/3 innings.

That streak came to an end Monday against Tampa Bay. After recording an out in the bottom of the seventh inning in relief of starter Samuel Deduno, Thielbar served up a home run to Ben Zobrist that also scored Desmond Jennings. Thielbar was charged with a run on the play, marking the first run he’s allowed to start his MLB career.

It was a big home run, too, as Zobrist’s home run put the Rays up 6-3 in the seventh. The homer was just the sixth hit allowed by the 26-year-old Thielbar, a native of Randolph, Minn., in his 18 appearances this year.

Walters accepts assignment: Four days after the Minnesota Twins designated right-hander P.J. Walters for release or assignment, Walters cleared waivers and accepted his designation to the minors, assistant general manager Rob Antony told reporters Monday in St. Petersburg.

By doing so, Walters has now been assigned to Triple-A Rochester and has been removed from the team’s 40-man roster. In eight starts with the Twins this year, the 28-year-old Walters was 2-5 with a 5.95 ERA. He’ll now have a chance to continue his baseball career in Minnesota’s organization — albeit at the minor league level.

“He had a lot of good things to say about the way he was treated and how he has been treated over the two years,” Antony said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “He thought about it, and obviously he has the questions that anybody would ask. ‘What’s the situation? Do you think I have a chance to come back up or are you guys going to go young and bring up some of the younger guys?’

“I said there’s no crystal ball, there’s no guarantees, but go down there, get an opportunity to pitch, and if you’re the guy, just like earlier this year, you might get a chance to come back up.”

FOX Sports North’s Kevin Gorg contributed to this report.

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